Radical rehabilitation centres fight extremism in Kazakhstan

By Ksenia Bondal


Participants at an anti-extremism seminar in March in Ust-Kamenogorsk learn how to use social media in reaching out to the public. [Courtesy of East Kazakhstan Province Religious Affairs Administration]

ASTANA -- The Akniyet Centre for the Rehabilitation of Adherents of Radical Religious Movements, founded in Astana in April 2014, has been working for years to rehabilitate ex-radicals.

In the wake of deadly terrorist attacks in Atkobe on June 5 and Almaty on July 18, NGOs have redoubled their efforts against extremism - however, they still lack critical skills and resources, Akniyet Director Alim Shaumetov told Caravanserai.

"That's why the akimats [local governments] ask us for help," Shaumetov said. "We also work with the National Security Committee and the General Prosecutor's Office."

The Committee for Religious Affairs (KDR), part of the Culture and Sport Ministry, finances the Akniyet Centre.

Every radicalised citizen has to be approached differently, Shaumetov said.

"The most important part ... is to make a psychological connection," Shaumetov said. "Out of three hours, say, we'll spend two or two and a half hours on that part alone. Only then do we start our conversation."

"To get a radical's attention, a theologian has to know more than the radical does," he said. "Theologians have to explain ... how religion and the state are separate in Kazakhstan."

Rehabilitating 1,000 people in 2 years

Akniyet's hard work is paying off, he said.

"In more than two years, Akniyet has returned more than 1,000 people to traditional Islam," Shaumetov said.

However, Akniyet finds itself forced to do de-programming after radicalisation has already occurred, rather than prevention.

"We don't have the resources to do [prevention]," Shaumetov said. "We have to work with them [extremists] after their families seek our help."

"A month ago, the father of a young man from Karaganda came to us," he said. "His son joined a radical movement."

The father sought out Akniyet because the local imam lacked the training to de-programme an extremist, Shaumetov said.

Sometimes, though, even Akniyet's skilled and experienced staffers cannot turn around an extremist, Shaumetov said. Tough "nuts to crack" include ex-militants who received combat and psychological training in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

"A radical might [not] realise that a theologian is speaking the truth," Shaumetov said. "He won't listen because of the agreement that he made with his [former] combat commander."

"The main task is to explain to people who've been sucked into radical movements that there is no real faith there," Almaty resident Askhat Toguzbayev told Caravanserai. "We need to explain ... that a 'religion' that incites wars and violence has nothing to with Islam."

"The most important thing to say in rehabilitation centres is that you must not commit suicide [attacks] for any reason, even reasons couched in pretty religious phrasing," he said.

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